Part Four

Watching the dance of the stars
Falling in trance
My mind reels of the sight
We become
Paralysed mesmerised hypnotized
Analyzing it all

    It wasn’t everyday that Aya came home to find a note from Ken saying that he was going clubbing with Yohji. In fact, it had never happened until now. He stood by the sink, studying the note and wondering what had possessed the younger man to go clubbing- especially with Yohji. Ken didn’t like clubbing. He didn’t like dancing. He didn’t like drinking.

    He shook his head and turned his gaze on the rest of the letter, where it dealt with Omi. Apparently Omi had called and said he might be on to something and had moved out of town. When Omi had called around seven, he’d said he was in Higo-sen and would be there at least overnight. He hadn’t said much to explain his reasons, which was probably half Ken’s failure because the brunette wouldn’t have thought to ask.

    He crumpled the note and threw it away, then went to make himself a pot of coffee. He paused before it. Someone had set it up so all he would have to do was turn it on and it would begin brewing. No doubt it had been Ken. He felt his lips curve into a faint smile and he pressed the on button.

    What a day…He’d spent the morning at the hospital with Aya-chan. He’d ended up falling asleep for several hours, a well deserved rest. From there he’d gone straight to the funeral, and from there he’d gone to get something to eat, because he’d been starving. He hadn’t meant to spend three hours as the diner, but he’d found a newspaper and had been slowly reading it. He didn’t get much time to read a newspaper at home, not with teammates like his.

    He waited as the coffee finished brewing, then poured himself a mug and headed to the den. He was sore from the attack last night, and his shoulder wasn’t feeling any better. He sighed, setting the mug on a small table. He didn’t feel like sleeping yet. Maybe he’d read a book…He moved towards the bookshelf. They didn’t keep many books on it. Who had time to read these days? There were a few, though.

    He chose one and headed to a chair Yohji had claimed as his own. It was thick and the cushions sank when one sat on it, making it the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house. When Yohji wasn’t around, Aya claimed it. He sat in it now and opened his book, flipping to the first page.

    There was a small rustle behind him, and he was reminded of the noise at the murder site that had distracted him. He sprang to his feet, whirling around in one movement. Something hit him from the side, sending him flying across the room, almost like the attacks from that Schwarz kid.

    ~Schwarz??~ he wondered, moments before his head made contact with the wall.


    Omi gazed around at the sights Higo-sen offered. The part of the city that had been built on top of the last bits of remains of the Cathedral, what had once been its outer walls, was old. It was crumbling, it was in bad repair, and it was dirty. It was obvious that a renovation project was going on, however, and the edges of the city were being built on to. New businesses, new franchises, were everywhere, attracting tourists and new workers and trying to make the decaying place bloom again.

    He flipped through his visitors’ guides. It said that there were tours offered to take interested visitors up a mountain trail that passed alongside the stage. He had stopped over at an ATM at the train station to get out the money he’d put in from his most recent paycheck. It wasn’t much, enough for maybe three nights at a cheap hotel and some small meals.

    Well, first things first. Light would be gone in an hour or so. He needed to get on a tour. It took some questioning of bystanders to find the directions to the tour stand, but he made it in one piece.

    “You going up on a ride?” a willowy man asked, holding one hand out for the money and using the other to gesture to a sign with the prices.

    Omi nodded, handing over the correct change. “Yes.”

    “Well, I’m your tour guide, Yoroku Hikatsi. Welcome aboard. Climb on the carriage.” Omi obeyed and Yoroku followed. There were only about four more people on the carriage, all of them old and one of them a foreigner. “You got here just in time, kid. This is the last trip for the day.”

    Omi chose an empty seat. Yoroku took up the horses’ reins and they started away. “Welcome, everyone, to the Star Cathedral tour guide. Some of you probably know what you’re going to see, because maybe you’ve researched this. To others, this is just one of the attractions that is recommended. There are plenty of legends around this place about it. I’ll tell you all I know as we go. The trip there is twenty minutes, so I hope you’re all comfortable.” Laughing, he turned the carriage on a small trail leading away.

    “This cathedral you’re going to see is ancient. It’s estimated to be thousands of years old. Most of it is a mystery to people these days, and what we know is what was passed down generation after generation among the mountain dwellers. Some of them are expected to be direct descendents of people that lived here. Others say what they know is just legends. You’re free to choose what you want.

    “The cathedral was and still is a work of art. A masterpiece. The stage, which is practically all that is left standing, is carved out of marble, pearl, and gold and engraved with symbols. It is about fifty feet wide and the same distance in length. It stands off the ground by about nine feet. There is part of a stairwell still standing, leading upwards, and a while ago there used to be some of the bleachers still left.”

    “Bleachers?” the foreigner asked.

    “Right. According to legends, this place was a place of worship. Hordes of people would gather here. Sacrifices and ceremonies would take place on the stage. Everyone else would sit in the bleachers lining it in a circle. When historians put the information they know about this in computers, they came up with a design that made it look like the gladiator arenas you can find in Europe.” The guide shrugged and continued with his tale.

    “This place got its name because of the genocide of a race known as the Star Mages. They were one of the ruling races. They lost their temple to a race known as the Myrr, the only ones who were powerful enough to stand up to them. The world, which was supposedly divided into four empires back then, revolted at the loss of the Mages and rose up against the Myrr. The cathedral was mostly destroyed in that battle, as was most of the race of the Myrr. The mountain people’s legends say that some of the Myrr survived and vanished into the distnace. No one knows.

    “The cathedral’s fall was marked as the symbol of a turning point in the way the world was run back then, though, that’s for sure. Two ruling races had been wiped out. Now all that is left to mark that era of the empires is this.” The carriage came to a stop. Yoroku gestured with a wave of his arm. “Climb out and behold.”

    The five tourists climbed out of the carriage. It had been stopped next to a cliff drop off. Far beneath, perhaps a hundred feet down, lay the stage. The low position of the sun caught in the symbols engraved in its surface, casting shadows all along its shoulders. The symbols were carved in a spiral towards the center, where a large circle was with a star in its center. Omi found himself drawing in air with awe. It was a magnificent sight. To think that this was all that was left…He felt unexpected tears prick the back of his eyes and he blinked quickly to rid himself of them.

    “I sell disposable cameras if anyone wants them to take pictures,” Yoroku added, and Omi lifted his hand. Yoroku winked at him, handing one over. “Never go on a tour without a camera, young man.”

    Omi managed to smile at him, though inwardly he felt like crying. He didn’t understand his reaction. He turned back to the stage and lifted the camera, focusing on the ruins. As he gazed at it through the lens of the camera, though, he paused. What good was there in taking a picture? It would never match up to the image burned into his mind. He lowered the camera and slowly handed it back to Yoroku. “Never mind,” he said quietly.

    “Change your mind?”

    “Aa. It will never be the same.” Omi glanced at the guide to see if the man understood. Yoroku did and nodded, giving him a warm smile. Omi smiled back. Unable to make himself look at the stage anymore, he turned and got back into the carriage to wait for the rest to be done.

    He sighed softly, a sad sound, and rubbed his forehead. ~Must be the lack of sleep,~ he mused.

    The other tourists boarded the carriage eventually, and Omi gazed out his window as the ride turned to start home. The sun was low on the horizon- low enough that the bottom tip seemed to touch land and spread out in a hot golden orange line, as if it was melting.

    Omi's gaze dropped to the stage once more, one last brief glance. The orange-red light seemed to have pooled in the symbols like molten lava, casting shadows across the stage. Once this had been a glorious temple. Now it had been reduced to this- something for today's peoples to come and gawk at, and point at, and take pictures of.

    It was the saddest thing Omi had ever seen.


    Yohji had Ken by the wrist and was pulling the younger boy through the club. The lights were flashing neon colors, the crowd was thick, the talk was loud, and the music was louder. The bass was turned on hihg enough that Yohji could feel it pulsing through him with each step and move he made.

    Yohji glanced over his shoulder, looking at Ken. The boy was obviously very uncomfortable and out of place. He had lost his nerve when they'd been about to leave the shop thirty minutes ago, and it had taken all Yohji could do to get him out the door. Ken did not like clubs, plain and simple.

    Well, the clubs liked him, apparently. The dancers and wallflowers they passed all wanted to touch him. Hands reached out, brushing against as much of him as they could. Ken swat at them, embarrassed and angered by their boldness. Yohji grinned and shook his head, leading them towards the bar.

    Ken sat on his stool and clung to it with his hands, gazing around at the crowd. "Why did I do this?" he asked, more to himself than to Yohji.

    "Because that woman was drop dead gorgeous and now you've got a month free." Yohji sighed. The offer had been out of his mouth before he could stop them. Sure, the lady was the prettiest thing he'd ever come across, but a month? She had better prove worth it…

    "I don't like it here."

    "Duly noted."

    "Yohji!" It was her. She slipped out of the crowd, another girl right behind her. The two girls stopped in front of them, and Yohji's girl smiled widely in appreciation- and anticipation- as she took in Yohji's club clothes. She moved towards him and climbed gracefully onto his lap, leaning back so her back was pressed against his chest and her head was on his shoulder. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced. My name in Mochitsu Ririka. This is my sister Fuumi. Fuumi, your date…"

    "Ken. Hidaka Ken," Ken managed, accepting the hand his date offered.

    She was beautiful. She had flowing silk hair to her waist, shades of deep purple all woven together and highlighted by silver threads. Her skin was as dark as her sister's and she wore the same sparkles. Her eyeshadow and lipstick, however, were faint violet, and her lipliner was a dark purple. Around her neck was a silver chain, but the charm was tucked under the rim of her shirt, out of sight. She wore a tube top and a small leather jacket over it, and low riding leather pants that looked like they'd been melted onto her they were so tight.

    "Hiya, Ken," she greeted cheerfully, sliding onto the stool beside his. With a small toss of her head she managed to get her bangs out of her eyes and she smiled. "What do you think of the place?"

    "Uh…noisy." Ken grinned.

    She laughed. "Yeah. I'm not really into clubbing, but my sister thought it would be good for me. Know what I mean?"

    "Yes," Ken agreed.

    "I'm more into the outdoors than indoors, sports and stuff. I don't know. Some people don't think girls should play sports, but I like them." She shrugged.

    "Really? I love sports. Soccer, in fact." Ken could feel himself relaxing. He'd been afraid she would be like her sister, was was talking to Yohji in quiet tones while he summoned a bartender over. She was like Yohji- out for one thing and one thing only. It was obvious she'd heard of Yohji's reputation. This girl, though…She didn't seem to be interested in a romantic relationship, and that was perfect. Ken had his eyes on someone else.

    "Soccer, huh? Good sport." Fuumi looked up when the bartender slid four drinks over to them. She picked up two, handing one to Ken. He accepted it. "Personally, I like handball, kickboxing, and track. I've never really had the chance to learn soccer. Will you tell me about it?"

    "Sure!" ~Perfect!~ Ken smiled widely, then glanced down at his drink.

    She grinned mischievously. "Never drank before?"

    "Not really, no."

    "Neither have I." She lifted her drink to eye level to peer into it, then flashed her teeth at him in a smile. "I'll drink if you drink, Ken."

    "All right."

    They raised their drinks and clinked them together, then tipped their heads back and took a gulp. Ken lowered his drink quickly, coughing. He could feel the alcohol burning all the way down, and he stared at the cup. ~What _is_ this? Acid??~

    Fuumi tipped her head back, laughing. "This has got a serious bite to it!" she declared. With the movement, the charm on her necklace came free from its spot and slid up her chest an inch or so. Ken blinked, examining it when the light caught it. It was pretty- a smooth black stone in the shape of a rounded triangle, with a white symbol engraved in its surface.

    "That's a beautiful necklace," he told her.

    She lowered her head, blinking at him in surprise, and he gestured to it with his free hand. She reached up with a hand, letting her fingers caress briefly it before tucking it back into its hiding place. She gave him a wistful smile. "It's from my mother," she told him softly. "She died a year ago. Before she did she asked us what we wanted from her. I chose this, because I'd never seen her without it."

    Knowing saying "I'm sorry" wouldn't help a bit, he instead reached forward and lightly squeezed her hand in an offer of silent comfort. She gave him a grateful smile and shook her head to move her bangs once more, raising her drink again.

    He took his cue and lifted his own, and they both drank.


    The night air was cool on Ken's face. He smiled as a breeze whisked by, tossing his hair in all directions, and glanced at the others. They'd left the club a while ago- he didn't remember exactly how long because someone had stuffed cotton in his head- and had taken to wandering the streets. Ririka was leaning against Yohji as they walked, going on about something or other…Ken wasn't sure. She wasn't making any sense. Fuumi was to his right, walking with her hands in her pockets.

    "Well, that was…new," Ken announced. He hadn't had all of his drink. It had hurt his stomach and throat too much. Fuumi and he had both stopped at half glass. Now Ken was tired, dizzy, and it was hard to think straight. Fuumi didn't seem to be as affected.

    "Yes," Fuumi agreed.

    "Where're we going, anyway?" Ken asked.

    "Walking the sweet ladies home to get some loving," was Yohji's reply.

    When Fuumi saw the surprised look on Ken's face, she laughed and lightly nudged him with her elbow. "It's an optional thing, Ken," she teased him. "That's what Ririka and Yohji are doing. You're doing the gentlemanly thing by walking me home. After that, it's your move. We can just talk, if you want."

    "A-aa…" His cheeks felt hot. Damn, he was blushing. She just laughed softly again as the four turned onto the front lawn of an apartment. Ken leaned his head back to try and see the top. Suddenly hands were on his back. "What?" he asked, looking back at Fuumi.

    "You're leaning backwards a little too far," she informed him, and he glanced at the ground. It was only two feet away.

    ~Funny…How did it get so close?~

    She helped get him back into a vertical position and they headed inside. Yohji and Ririka had already started up the stairs. "Eighth floor," Fuumi told Ken, leading him up by his wrist. He allowed himself to be lead. The door was open when they got there, and they stepped inside in time to hear a door- presumably for a bedroom- slam shut. Fuumi giggled and shut the front door, bolting it.

    "Want a drink?"

    "I've had more than enough to drink. That stuff is nasty."

    "No, silly. I mean juice or coffee or anything."

    "Nah…Not thirsty." He yawned.

    "We have a pretty view from the balcony. You should take a look at it." The livingroom was through a doorway on the left and she crossed through it, heading towards a glass door. As she fiddled with the locks, Ken yawned again.

    "Maybe I should go home…I'm exhausted."

    "You live at the flower shop, right?" she asked. He nodded. "It's too far. You'd pass out on the way. You can sleep here, if you want- on the couch." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Now come look at this."

    Ken glanced at the couch. Yes, it did look comfortable. "A'right." He obediently went to where she'd managed to unlock the door and they both stepped out onto the balcony.

    It was a nice view, Ken admitted. To the right they could see the water, with the moon reflecting off it. To the left was part of the city, with all of its night signs on and shining. There were few cars, but plenty of people on foot, people who were looking for a good time in the night life.

    "You ever had a girlfriend, Ken?" Fuumi asked, turning her back to the railing and leaning against it.

    "Ah…no. I was close, but she ended up leaving the country. Went to Australia to ride her motorcycle." He smiled faintly as his mind conjured up a picture of Yuriko. She had been so fresh, so full of life and so perfect for him. Fuumi reminded him of her. Too bad she was too late, otherwise he'd consider seeking a relationship with her. "You ever have a boyfriend?" he asked, sensing she was waiting for the question.

    "No. None think I'm pretty enough."

    Ken turned a surprised look on her. "What? But you _are_ pretty. You're gorgeous."

    "Am I, Ken?" she asked, voice lowering to a whisper. She leaned forward, reaching up to take his face in her hands, and lightly pressed her lips against his in a short and sweet kiss.

    Ken backed away a step, giving her a regretful look. "Ah, gomen, but I can't…There's someone I like…"

    She smiled at him, moving in for another kiss, and took his hand. "Come on, Ken," she murmured. "Let's go inside."

Part 5